Texas Seeks to Allow Doctors Right to Refuse Treating Transgender Patients

The crusade against transgender rights in Texas — along with Attorney General Ken Paxton's race to break the record for most lawsuits filed against the federal government—is ripe and thriving.

While the lawsuit Texas filed against the feds for directing school districts to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identities makes its way through court, Paxton has got to work on a new anti-trans project, this time suing the feds for issuing a rule that prevents healthcare providers from discriminating against transgender patients.

Now, Paxton is pushing to give physicians the right to deny transgender people medical treatment — similar to the way he attempted to give cake bakers and even public officials the right to deny gay people service and rights.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued an Affordable Care Act regulation saying physicians cannot deny transgender Americans healthcare such as hormonal treatment or sex reassignment surgery simply because the physician doesn't agree with (or understand) trans people's needs, or believes the treatment is "experimental." As we noted in our cover story “When Seeking Basic Medical Care, Transgender People Face Discrimination in Houston,” it's not uncommon that transgender people may encounter doctors who refuse to recognize his or her gender transition — including new names and pronouns — and despite today's medical standards still believe that being transgender is more like a mental disorder.

By the looks of this lawsuit, Paxton is apparently of the same opinion.

According to his press release, Paxton apparently thinks that a physician's right to discriminate against transgender people and refuse them treatment because of their own personal religious or conscientious beliefs should come before a patient's right to receive medical care. He asserts that “this new rule interprets 'sex' as a state of mind, not a biological fact,” as though he believes being transgender is comparable to only temporary happiness or sadness or catatonic “states of mind,” not a legitimate, permanent condition as consistently recognized by medical professionals.

In his statement describing this dilemma for medical providers, Paxton first notes that this is the thirteenth time he has been “forced” to sue the Obama Administration (Governor Greg Abbott holds the record of 31 lawsuits against Obama during his time as AG; Paxton has some work to do). Then he says:

“The federal government has no right to force Texans to pay for medical procedures designed to change a person’s sex. I am disappointed in the Obama Administration’s lack of consideration for medical professionals who believe that engaging in such procedures or treatment violates their Hippocratic Oath, their conscience, or their personal religious beliefs, which are protected by the Constitution and federal law.”

Dr. Anne Robinson, executive director of the Montrose Center, said Paxton's new lawsuit was unsurprising to her. But she was particularly concerned about the mental harm physicians could cause transgender patients by refusing to provide them treatment related to their gender dysphoria — the condition that causes transgender people to feel a gaping disconnect between being born one gender but living every day feeling they are a different gender, causing severe anxiety and depression. Robinson said that best medical practices are certainly not to ignore gender dysphoria but to assist the person in matching their inner and outer selves, whether through hormonal treatment, or, if it becomes necessary, sex reassignment surgery.

If Paxton won this lawsuit, thus allowing doctors to refuse transgender-related treatment, Robinson said doctors would essentially be “oppressing someone for making their own health choices.”

“That is harming that person. By giving that medical opinion to them, you're telling them their feelings and thoughts don't matter, and the provider's preferences are more important than the patient's,” Robinson said. “I feel like that would be against the Hippocratic Oath.”

Robinson, like many Texans, wishes the state's Republican leadership would find something better to do with its time other than attack transgender people, "who have never caused [the Republican leaders] any harm." This week, Texas secured a preliminary injunction blocking the federal guidelines allowing transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity from going into effect. The judge in that case ruled not on the merits of the rule itself, but on the fact that the feds failed to undergo proper rule-making and law-making processes before issuing the guidelines.

Paxton argues that the feds committed the same violation in issuing this new anti-discrimination rule. And the same judge who agreed with him, U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor of Fort Worth, will hear this lawsuit too.

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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn